There are essentials every new resident of San Antonio should receive: a map of the city, a VIA bus schedule, a comprehensive H-E-B directory, a guide to identifying authentic margaritas. When the Current plays Welcome Wagon, we’ll also include Art at our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers + Artists, a definitive collection of local writers’ and artists’ work published just after Fiesta by Trinity University Press. Thumbing through its pages, you’ll catch the names of such luminaries as James Cobb, Alberto Mijangos, Bryce Milligan, Josephina Niggli, Franco Mondini-Ruiz, and Carmen Tafolla. In the local arts community it has been hailed as a much-needed cultural encyclopedia for San Antonio.
Edited by Gemini Ink founder and Our Lady of the Lake instructor Nan Cuba and Artpace studio director Riley Robinson, Art at Our Doorstep pairs the work of 45 writers with the visual output of 70 artists. Cuba and Riley did a superb job of recognizing up-and-coming talent as well as revered artists and writers living and deceased. Cuba included the works of Niggli and African-American playwright Sterling Houston, while Robinson selected pieces from influential teacher and painter Mijangos and Artpace founder Linda Pace. Their decision to include these pivotal figures — each a revolutionary in his or her own way — was wise. These artists and writers left a tremendous impact on the city and no local art “collection” would be complete without them. Not all Doorstep writers and artists, past or present, were born-and-raised in San Anto, but all have significant ties to the Alamo City, whether as a former resident, a graduate of a local college, or a lifer.
As a relatively newbie arts writer, I’m still acquainting myself with our numerous local talents, and Doorstep is helping me discover individuals and their work. The selection of visual artists is impressive, sampling widely across media and generations, making it invaluable to new arts patrons, too.
Doorstep’s writing ranges from traditional prose to non-traditional poetry to experimental works. The entries I found most true-to-heart are the short stories, including Oscar Casares’s work. As an undergrad I read Casares’s Brownsville as part of a Mexican-American literature course. The book I bought was used and had notations in the table of contents, including a letter grade for each short story. “RG,” Casares’s contribution to Art at our Doorstep, earned a B+ in my second-hand copy. The story is about a man who lends his hammer to a neighbor, and doesn’t get it back until years later. The simple plot allows Casares to examine the inner monologue of the main character, an OCD type who jots down details of his daily life in a notebook — keeping track of the exact length of time his neighbor, Bannert, keeps his hammer.
Trinidad Sanchez Jr.’s well-known poem “Why Am I So Brown?” delves into a simple question, but broadens it to appeal to the masses, beautifully relating brown to “a state of being.” Sanchez, who died in 2006, was a social activist who helped prison inmates, Latinos, Chicanos, Mexican-Americans, and more with his powerful words: “God made you brown, mi’ja … color of your raza, your people/ connecting you to your raices, your roots/ your story/ historia.”
Riley Robinson’s diverse selection of artwork includes Pace’s “Red Crab, in Back Seat,” a simple colored-pencil drawing on parchment paper, created as she fought breast cancer, and Cakky Brawley’s “St. Anthony/San Antonio,” a gorgeous welded aluminum shrine to the saint which stands 15-feet tall with light illuminating the luminaria-like piece.
Ansen Seale’s photograph “Evergreen” graces the cover of the book. Using a digital panoramic camera, Seale creates a painting-like image that to the unsuspecting eye may look like PhotoShop. He “records a hidden reality,” he says, by capturing small vertical slits of a scene in rapid
Cruz Ortiz’s “Coyote-Landia” is a straightforward, black-and-white mixed-media composition of pencil on paper, twine, and clothespin in the center of the work, a text bubble says, “I miss you darlin’ mucho.” Ricky Armendariz’s “I took the high road, pero it leads to el lado muy lado …” ventures another direction; the acrylic and polyacrylic on carved birch plywood features deep purple hues reminiscent of dusk. •